In 1517, Martin Luther posted ninety-five statements (or theses) for debate in Wittenberg, Germany. His action was the beginning of the Reformation. Luther sought to reform the unbiblical teachings and practices that had crept into the Church, eclipsing the great good news that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting [people’s] trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Luther and the Lutheran Reformation did not introduce new teachings to the Christian Church. Instead, the Lutherans showed how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the vibrant, beating heart of the biblical and historic Christian faith and life. This blog summarizes the teachings of the “one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church,” and thus what Lutherans teach.
Lutherans teach that in this Sacrament the true body and blood of Jesus Christ are really present under the bread and wine for Christians to eat and to drink, because Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body. . . . Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26–28). Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in this sacred meal to give “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28), eternal life, and salvation. As He taught His disciples, He also teaches us: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54).
For this reason Lutherans agree with and practice the Church’s historic practice of “closed communion.” Since “the cup of blessing” is “a participation in the blood of Christ” and “the bread that we break” is “a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:16), all who commune receive the actual body and blood of Christ—believers to their abundant blessing, but unbelievers to their eternal harm. Whoever communes “without discerning the body [of Christ] eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29). So in Christian love, Lutherans protect those who are unworthy and unprepared for Holy Communion by first teaching them their need for Christ, and the forgiveness and life that He gives in the Sacrament. When there is unity in confessing the way, truth, and life of Jesus (John 14:6), we joyously commune together.
One of the sayings that came out of the Reformation was, “The Church always needs to be reformed.” This does not mean that the Church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7), becomes unfaithful to her bridegroom, Jesus Christ. After all, “the church of the living God” is always the “pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). However, this Reformation slogan does mean that the Church always needs to devote herself “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When human opinions and ideas creep in and eclipse the message of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and for salvation, the Church must always “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Therefore, Lutherans teach what Scripture teaches and what faithful Christians have taught through the centuries: Since “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), Lutherans boldly and consistently teach that “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)